The Justice Department's botched gun-smuggling program Fast & Furious is no longer the exclusive obsession of Republicans and gun owners. Turns out, advocates of marijuana legalization want in on the conspiracy too.
The unusual development was sparked by a new book titled Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana by Martin A. Lee, which contends that Attorney General Eric Holder authorized a series of raids against California medical marijuana dispensaries to distract the public and the law enforcement community from the investigation into the gun-walking investigation, which involved the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The theory goes something like this: As Republican calls for Holder's resignation escalated in October 2011, Holder played what Lee says was the "ace up his sleeve":
On October 7, the same day Holder wrote a detailed letter to Rep. Issa, defending his handling of the Fast and Furious affair, four federal prosecutors in California held a hastily organized press conference in which they threw down the gauntlet and announced the start of a far-ranging crackdown that would nearly decimate the Golden State’s medical marijuana industry...
The Justice Department green-lit a scorched earth campaign against medicinal cannabis in order to placate law enforcement and control the damage from the Fast and Furious scandal by deflecting attention to other matters ... Within ten months, close to half of California’s 1400 dispensaries would shut down as the DEA waged an all-out vendetta against what Proposition 215 had unloosed.
If you ask us, Lee's case, excerpted in such mutually-opposed publications as the conservative Daily Caller and liberal Alternet and Truthout, appears to be based on circumstantial evidence: That the timing of the crackdown and the scandal explain each other. Besides that, there's also the inconvenient fact that Holder started warning the state of California that its marijuana dispensaries could be subject to raids as far back as October 2010, before the Fast & Furious scandal really got started. But a few pesky facts can't stand in the way of a good conspiracy!
As SF Weekly's marijuana reporter Chris Roberts notes, Lee's scoop "was widely circulated and read within the marijuana movement over the weekend." While Roberts is skeptical of some aspects of the book, he says the failed publicity effort "would be within the character Holder has revealed to date." Clearly, there's a lot of tension between marijuana legalization advocates and the Justice Department, especially in California where hundreds of medical marijuana shops have been closed due to the federal crackdown.
Like the gun-walking scandal, it has remained niche, but no-less passionate issue for a specific subset of Americans. Type in "Holder" + "Crackdown" + "Marijuana dispensary" and 100,000 results show up of stories decrying the numerous alleged "lies" of the attorney general. But it has failed to go mainstream outside of a few one-off remarks on Bill Maher's HBO show. Similarly, Republicans can't seem to get Fast & Furious elevated to its alleged "Watergate"-worthy status, despite aggressive attempts by the GOP-led House to sue Eric Holder for refusing to provide documents related to the scandal, an action they pursued today. If this is a strength in numbers issue, maybe the two sides can join forces?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.